I’ve recently taken a walk down memory lane and revisited my childhood by finding my Jem and the Holograms memorabilia and painstakingly going through Youtube to find the music and movies I held dear in the days of yesteryear. The Dirt Bike Kid is just as good as I remember… possibly better, The Secret Garden made me want to be a Victorian so much it nearly made me cry and Honey I Shrunk the Kids gave me hope that I would find my soul mate whilst befriending a giant ant.
While looking through this Aladdin’s cave of treasure it got me thinking about what kids are growing up with now and also how this is affecting what kind of adults they grow into.
In all fairness to the space age generation I know the elderly like myself (born in 1985… there wasn’t even internet!) always think that their childhood games, movies and television shows were the best and will spend hours reminiscing with equally sad grownups. However even with this bias staring me squarely in the face I still believe that I am onto something.
My window into the wider world started with Sesame Street where an array of characters that looked like Jim Henson had experienced a particularly vivid acid dream lived on a street and spoke about being kind to each other whilst teaching me dance moves that I still use to this day. Puppets were made painstakingly by talented craftsmen by hand. If you made the long trip to Sesame Street you would have been able to poke Big Bird right in the eye if you had wanted to! Sesame Street inspired me to try and make my own puppets and then to torture my mother by putting on skits with characters that looked like they had just been exposed to nuclear waste.
Beyond childhood we had some amazing programmes to help us into our teenage years.
Saved by The Bell taught me a new life lesson in every episode; Oh Mr Belding how did you get so wise? The girls we desperately wanted to look like were healthy, not stick thin and hung out in the diner having a burger with the boys betting they could do better at the science fair that week. Kelly played AC Slater and Zack off each other and made me want to be her so much it physically hurt.
In Clarissa Explains It All Melissa Joan Heart’s character was smart and sassy, her best friend Sam (twwwaannnggg) climbed through her window everyday just to talk to her. She was cool; she had hubcaps on her wall for God’s sake!
Ferris Buller’s Day Off taught us how to be a rebel but a loveable one, where we could be in a parade singing ‘Twist and Shout’ without stabbing someone for street credibility.
In these examples and millions more we learnt how to laugh at ourselves and also had our imagination stimulated by filmmakers who pushed the boundaries to the furthest corners of their imaginations and in doing so pushed our imaginations further as well.
When we compare this to a modern childhood, instead of being jealous of 7 year old girls with IPhones I pity them. I was babysitting my friend’s child a few weeks ago and tuned on a TV programme she likes called Bratz. To be blunt it is a plague on the modern generation. A group of girls hang around the mall all day. For some reason unknown to me they have no noses, silicone lips and unrealistically thin figures and as such look like an advert for plastic surgery gone wrong. In short, these girls are not rocking the natural look. They mainly talk about clothes and boys and change outfit about 15 times per episode.
After watching the programme with my young friend and trying not to pull the Jenna Marbles face of dismay too much I asked her why she liked it, to which she replied. ‘Because they’re pretty’, I asked her if there was anything else she thought was good about it to which she said the most awful statement I have ever heard a 7 year old utter. ‘They wear short skirts and have good hair and boys will think they are pretty. They don’t need to do anything else as long as they are pretty.’
It makes me sad; it makes me really sad that modern children’s television creates this world of shallowness. We wonder why so many girls are suffering from eating disorders at such a young age and the truth of the matter is that as children our television shows kept us young, no one wanted to be old; we wanted to climb trees forever. However, with mobile phones and the internet children are being made to grow up far more quickly than is good for them. They are being forced to see marketing images that we as adults sometimes even struggle to put in perspective and still remain kids.
Kids watch the Xfactor now as if it is a religious movement. They see 16 year olds being dressed up as 21 year olds and singing about how their hearts have been broken and they won’t take that man back anymore. At 16 what the hell do they know about heartache? Kids flick through pages and pages of women in magazines wearing hear extensions ripped off the head of a mother who can’t afford to feed her children.
Instead of using media to guide young people into looking for a more meaningful life we instead have become the ‘fun parent’ who lets children eat candy for dinner and buy them the high heels because they bugged us to the point of exhaustion.
Are these the next generation of feminists? The girls stalking boy bands on twitter and learning to Twerk? The girls listening to Selena Gomez’s anti feminist message in ‘Come and Get It’? The girls who want to be famous; not for any kind of talent but just so they can have a big house and get their picture taken?
I grew up in a different time and for this I am grateful. To be blunt we have failed our children by sending them a warped message through the media. Let’s hope that the wizard will be able to give them a brain and a heart instead of a new set of hair extensions. Molly Ringwald would weep!
By Emmie Pickthall.